The Digital Divide: Another Barrier with Distance Learning

Los Angeles families with school-age children in high poverty areas struggled with access to computers and adequate internet throughout the spring semesters while facing job losses and food insecurity, issues that hampered online learning amid the COVID19 pandemic.

A survey from USC and the partnership for Los Angeles schools underscores how “poverty has exacerbated the toll wrought by the pandemic and how challenging these problems are to overcome.” The survey also showed that the digital divide still exists for the low income folks of color. Many families do not have internet, access to a computer or a tablet and many kids do not have a quiet place at home to engage in distance learning.

However this survey was conducted in July. In remarks Monday September 21, LA school Supt. Austin Beutner said, “98.5% of all students in the district were now connected.” However what that really means is that a student has logged on to the online learning platform at least once since school started on August 18th.

In addition, 75% of parents and guardians surveyed did not themselves use computers on a regular basis and some 42% of students rely on siblings when running into problems with technology.

“Every student in California has a right to a quality education. As long as we are distance learning that means access to quality broadband and the resources needed to support student success should also be a right,” said Ryan Smith chief external officer for the partnership for Los Angeles schools.

This situation persists at a time when teachers are being encouraged to be more aggressive about student’s participation in distance learning. Some of the parents SBCC partners with have messaged us asking what to do when they are unable to help their kids with school work or their internet connection fails.

Since this article is a follow up to “Distance Learning isn’t Going the Distance”, which is regarding our parking lot school, I have been speaking with parent and staff regarding feedback from teachers and school officials. What concerns many parents is that it feels like the responsibility for teaching is being transferred to parents and guardians. Parents feel scolded and criticized if they are unable to help their children because the internet failed, lack of internet, not being able to navigate the LAUSD platform, or they have to go to work and leave the kids alone at home.

LAUSD should have been very aware of the digital divide in many low income communities and the challenges residents in those communities would face. Distance learning was never a good solution for families with multiple barriers lacking the basic foundation for distance learning which an internet connection is.

Instead of taking a step back to determine what would really be an effective learning environment, LAUSD soldiers on leaving a significant number of communities behind and blaming parents when their one dimensional strategy does not work.

“Distance learning under the best circumstances is exhausting and requires constant parental supervision”

In this case failure means that a significant number of low income students will be deprived of their right to a quality education.

In the last week many groups of parents have organized to make their voices heard on this issue. Some have filed class action law suits against LAUSD calling out the inequality of distance learning, others have organized advocacy groups like Worth More LA. It’s time to tell LAUSD our children our worth more. SBCC supports the efforts of all parents to fight for a quality education for their children.

In the meantime SBCC will support our parent partners by continuing to offer our “School in the Parking-Lot”.

Empowering communities across Los Angeles County to discover and develop tools through active individual and collective well-being.

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